Over the last decade, wireless technology has reshaped the way we work and the way we live. According to the CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, there are now more wireless devices in the US than people, and 44% of American households are "wireless-only." Americans talk on their cellphones for 204.6 billion minutes every month, and they sent 1.92 trillion text messages last year.
The Pew Research Center reports that nearly two-thirds of Americans own smartphones, and 46% of those people say they couldn't live without those devices. That's a huge development in a short period of time, given that Apple released the first iPhone in 2007.
The coming decade could see changes in wireless technology that are equally dramatic. Several startups are leading the way with innovative technologies that could revolutionize the marketplace. For example, they are creating new laser-radio technology that transmits wireless data on a beam of light, Internet of Things sensors that can connect virtually anything to the Internet, messaging apps that allow people to communicate in new ways, and WiFi networks that make it easier to access the Web.
As part of our Top in Tech series, we feature eight startups with technologies or business plans that seem particularly promising. Many of them have innovations that could be useful for enterprises looking to capitalize on wireless capabilities.
AOptix invented Laser-Radio Technology (LRT), a new type of wireless communications technology which is based in part on Curvature Adaptive Optics, which allows astronomers to take clear pictures of objects in deep space. Its first clients were the US Department of Defense and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), for whom it created a high-bandwidth "network in the sky" that enabled wireless communication that traveled on a beam of light between moving aircraft and other planes or the ground.
Its Intellimax product (pictured above) is used for mobile backhaul, last-mile access enterprises, fiber redundancy for data centers, and many other uses. According to the company it is "the first and only product in the telecommunications industry to deliver fiber-like performance in a wireless transport solution."
The company has received a number of awards, including being named a Cool Vendor for 2015 by Gartner. It has raised more than $123 million in investment funding.
Aiming to capitalize on the Internet of Things (IoT) trend, Beep is developing sensors that can communicate across distances up to 10 miles without using a lot of battery power. It calls its new long-range, low-power networking standard "LoRa," and it is planning to build a sensor network in San Francisco. Beep sensors aren't available for purchase yet, but interested buyers can sign up for a waitlist.
A little over a year old, Beep was founded in 2014 by several former Google employees. It has raised $4 million in seed funding from Western Technology Investment, Y Combinator, Garry Tan, Tony Hsieh, David Dolby, and others.
Another Internet of Things player, Estimote makes tiny beacons and stickers that you can attach to just about anything -- your keys, your favorite shoes, your bike, the walls, etc. The beacons and stickers broadcast radio signals that can be picked up by iOS or Android devices. The company offers a development kit that companies can use to make apps that go along with the devices. These apps can help users find lost items, offer discounts to shoppers entering retail stores, help navigate through indoor spaces, and more.
Founded in 2012, Estimote has raised $3.1 million in seed funding and has been featured in publications like The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Forbes, TechCrunch, The Verge, Gigaom, and Mashable. It has offices in Poland and New York City.
Imagine getting free access to WiFi all around the world. That's the promise of Fon. Customers buy WiFi routers from the company and plug them into their home broadband connections. They agree to share their WiFi service with other Fon users in return for free WiFi access themselves. With more than 17.2 million WiFi hotspots connected, Fon claims to have the world's largest WiFi network, but it acknowledges that coverage is much better in some places than in others (London, Paris, Lisbon, and Tokyo have a lot of users.) Several telecommunications providers are also partnering with Fon to provide WiFi access to their customers.
Fon was founded in 2005 by Martin Varsavsky, an Argentinian entrepreneur and philanthropist. Its headquarters are in Spain.
Open Garden is best known as the company behind FireChat, a free messaging app. It uses peer-to-peer mesh networking that allows people to connect to each other even when there is no Internet connection available. The company hopes to keep FireChat free, but it wants to sell its peer-to-peer mesh networking to enterprises and to use it to help create the Internet of Things.
According to the Open Garden website, FireChat has been one of the top 10 social networking applications in 124 different countries. It also won a 2015 SxSW Innovation award and a Financial Time 2015 Boldness in Business Award. Founded in 2011, the company has received $12.8 million in investment capital.
Visitors to the OpenSignal website immediately see a map detailing the cellular coverage in their local area, including the count of cell towers, networks, and WiFi hotspots nearby. The data comes from people who use the OpenSignal smartphone apps -- they supply anonymous data to OpenSignal, which in turn provides them with information about coverage. The company's goal is "to become the global authority on wireless networks," and it makes money by providing market insights to the telecommunications industry. It also offers an API for developers who want to incorporate OpenSignal data into their apps.
The company was founded in 2010 by "a team of Oxford physics grads." It raised $4 million in Series A funding, and it has been featured by media outlets like Time, TechCrunch, Mashable, the BBC, CNN, and others.
A lot of companies are working on the Internet of Things, but Veniam wants to create the "Internet of Moving Things." Ideal for public transportation, its technology turns vehicles into roaming WiFi hotspots. In September of 2014, it launched a city-wide vehicular mesh network in Porto, Portugal, which connected more than 600 buses, taxis, and municipal vehicles using its NetRider mesh networking devices. Today that network serves more than 2.3 TB of Internet traffic every month.
Veniam has received a number of awards, including being named a Cool Vendor for 2015 by Gartner. It has offices in Silicon Valley, Portugal, and Singapore.
Dedicated to privacy and security, Wickr claims to be "the most trusted messenger in the world." Unlike most other messaging apps, it doesn't collect any user data, and there is no way for hackers or governments to trace how people are using it. All app data is encrypted both at rest and in transit, and messages are wiped from the devices that receive them after they expire. It supports Windows, OS X, and Linux, as well as iOS and Android. The app is free, and the company plans to sell an enterprise version of the technology to large companies.
Wickr was founded in 2011 and has raised nearly $40 million in funding. The company claims that its app has been downloaded more than 6 million times and that it has delivered more than a billion secret messages.
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8 Wireless Startups & Products Transforming Mobility
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